A junior Australian defense staffer is on trial after he allegedly downloaded and leaked a “highly sensitive” intelligence report to an online forum. The intelligence service says there is no way of knowing now who may have seen the document.
The classified Defense Intelligence Organization (DIO) assessment report, allegedly meant for Australia’s allies, was reportedly obtained by a 21-year-old Department of Defense graduate in 2012, burned to a disc, taken home and posted to the photo-sharing portal 4chan.org in the form of images, Fairfax Media reported.
After uploading the document, Michael Scerba – now 24 – also allegedly praised Julian Assange as “hero.”
He is now being charged by Australia’s ACT Supreme Court on two counts, with no trial date set yet. Any other details pertaining to the case are also being kept strictly secret.
Australian media reports that he had indicated in court that he will be pleading guilty to at least one charge.
The breach came to light by accident, when one former member of the Defense Signals Directorate (ASD) was browsing the net. He noticed a 4chan thumbnail that said “Julian Assange is my hero.”
Upon closer inspection it was clear what the link contained. The report reportedly had a marking of ‘Secret, 5 eyes’ on each page, a reference to the intelligence-sharing agreement between Australia, New Zealand, Britain, Canada and the United States. Two out of 15 pages were posted.
If the authorities are to be believed, Australia’s current and future defense operations, as well as its relationship with its allies, could suffer as a result.
Scerba also reportedly attached a message: “I release what I feel should be in the media: bombings, civilian deaths, actions of the ‘terrorists’ that just aren’t reported in the media.”
Court documents later stated the discovery was “fortuitous.” Perhaps less fortuitous is the fact that more than five eyes have likely seen the document now, and the DIO says it has no way of knowing who exactly, or the potential scale of the damage this has wrought.
The document’s contents are not being reported, but authorities believe foreign intelligence agencies and “others” would seize the opportunity to view it. And by the time the former ASD employee had spotted the leaked report, there were reportedly comments from 14 different people below it.
Scerba did not prove as adept as Edward Snowden at evading authorities. The police traced the IP address to his exact location – his home in Richardson, southern Canberra. They raided the house and seized the equipment. The broken disc used to copy the classified report was reportedly found in the bin.
Australian media reports that a search of his computer revealed online attempts at searching information on how to hide one’s tracks, and the machine also contained traces of the classified images.
The judge, Justice Richard Refshauge, last week imposed a strict ban on disclosing the “highly sensitive” details of the document. Communication relating to them is likewise restricted.
“It is my view that the disclosure of the sensitive information may cause prejudice, in some instances very serious prejudice, to Australian national security,” the Brisbane Times quoted the judge as saying.
The documents were ordered to be destroyed within 28 days of the trial closing. The materials will be kept in a safe when they are not being used by the court.
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